James Barnes wrote a march. That's not unusual: He often writes music for bands.
It's a straight concert march, written for a band sitting down in a hall. But what makes the march special is its reason for being to honor Dwight David Eisenhower. And Barnes knows Eisenhower, the president and general.
"My hobbies include military history," said Barnes, a KU associate music professor. "You know, Eisenhower's great hobby was reading Zane Grey novels. But I can see him running battles in Europe during the war and wanting to read some dumb Western novels just to take his mind off it."
The march, called "The Eisenhower Centennial March," will be performed at 7:30 p.m today at the South Park bandstand, 12th and Massachusetts. The group performing the march is also the group that commissioned it the 312th U.S Army Band, a 65-member reservist group stationed in Lawrence.
"James Barnes is one of the three top band composers in the country," said Paul Gray, the band's director. "I picked him because of his national reputation."
THE 312TH, named the official Eisenhower centennial band, is about to launch an extensive tour of Kansas during the 100th anniversary year of Eisenhower's birth. The band's schedule includes stops in Hays, Topeka and Wichita and will culminate in a concert in Abilene, the town where Eisenhower grew up, around the time of Eisenhower's birthday in October. The tour is sponsored by the Kansas Eisenhower Centennial Commission and the I-70 Assn.
The centennial march is the first the band has commissioned, and the financing came from the Army. About 22 of the players are from Lawrence, according to information released by the band.
Barnes said one of the difficulties in composing for a band, as opposed to an orchestra, is the variety of musical colors available. The clashing sounds can more easily sound like a jumble than a composed piece of music.
"I TELL my orchestration students that it's really hard to make an orchestra sound bad," he said. "There you have strings and woodwinds. But with a band you have instruments you usually hear only a little from like the English horn or the saxophone. You spend all your time trying not to find colors instead of finding them."
The band playing the new march gets to rehearse only twice a month, when the reservists assemble for their scheduled maneuvers. Gray, a chief warrant officer in the reserve, in real life runs a Lawrence business and plays trumpet in the Gaslight Gang jazz ensemble.
"It's not an ideal situation," he said. "You have some members who are professional musicians or lead high school or college bands, so they play just about all the time. But for a lot of the players, this is the only regular playing they do. You hope they practice."
GRAY STARTED wrking with the band in 1977, after leading the Kansas National Guard Band in the early and mid-1970s.
He said he's a benevolent taskmaster when he leads the band.
"Hopefully, I try to lead with some authority but with compassion as well," he said. "I pick the program, but I often ask for suggestions, and the players pick some pieces I wouldn't have considered, and we play them."
Barnes recently returned from a trip to Gettysburg, Pa., the site of Eisenhower's retirement home as well as the Civil War battle. The composer knows Eisenhower well enough to point to a historical irony: The military band will play a military march for a military man whose mother hated the military.
"Eisenhower's mother was a pacifist," Barnes said. "He said that the only time he saw his mother cry was when he went off to West Point."